By Molly Kirk
Photos by Meghan Marchetti
The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is sad to announce the passing of K9 Justice, a nine-year veteran of the DGIF Conservation Police K9 program. Justice, a 10-year-old black Labrador retriever, joined the DGIF as a K9 officer in 2011 and was partnered with Senior CPO Wayne Billhimer.
Justice retired from service on January 22, 2020 after a cancer diagnosis. Sr. Officer Billhimer and his wife, Molly adopted Justice and cared for him during his retirement and treatment. “It’s hard to put into words, the bond we shared. He was part of my family,” said Billhimer. “He was truly my best friend, who I fortunately got to take to work with me.”
K9 Justice and Billhimer worked together on evidence detection, suspect tracking, missing person searches, wildlife violation identification, and public outreach. “Justice and Wayne were mentors for newer handlers as the program developed,” said Major Scott Naff of the DGIF Conservation Police. He noted that one of Justice and Billhimer’s most notable cases was a successful three-mile track of a suspected turkey poacher in Shenandoah County. That case resulted in a seizure of 52 pairs of turkey wings and a conviction for the suspect. “The seizures related to that case are on display in the lobby at DGIF headquarters,” Naff noted.
“I don’t think that he viewed tracking bad guys or finding hidden guns as work; it was a game to him, which he loved,” Billhimer said. “I think that’s what made him excel and be one of the top K9s. It was fun to him to find lost children, track down fugitives running from us, or uncover someone hiding too many trout. It was something he enjoyed doing.
“Justice taught me lots of things in our time together, but one thing that stands out is perseverance,” Billhimer continued. “Some of the hardest cases we did were older cases, so we didn’t start working the case until a few days after the crime. Justice would push through and never give up. The only time he would stop was when I would physically stop him and say, ‘We’re done.’ We tracked a suspect once and went seven miles. I was exhausted, but not once did Justice give up. He just kept going.”
Justice also excelled at outreach events for DGIF, helping to educate the public about DGIF’s work and to connect the CPOs with people. He and Billhimer did many demonstrations and appearances at events. “Justice would put on quite a show,” said Billhimer. “You could ask Justice what the limit on trout was, and he’d bark six times. That was a crowd favorite. When you said the word ‘bad guy,’ he’d bark. That helped our demos at schools and got a lot of attention. Justice knew his role in our demo really well.”
Justice was also one of the stars of the popular Virginia Conservation Police lip sync challenge video.
Justice was also a beloved member of Billhimer’s family, even serving as ringbearer at the Billhimers’ wedding. “He would go everywhere with us, even off duty,” said Billhimer. “Anywhere I went, he went. He didn’t even know what a kennel facility looked like. We even skipped some vacations over the years because they weren’t dog-friendly. I’d rather have him with me and miss a vacation.”
The DGIF Conservation Police K9 program is generously supported by the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation’s Caring for the CPO K9s fund (click to donate). Donations help support DGIF’s K9 program with veterinary bills, wellness-related costs, and more.